Elefanten civil defence bunker

IMG_2387Elefanten (“The Elephant”) is the code name for the main civil defence bunker, which used to serve Stockholm and Sollentuna region, a unique time capsule from the cold war era. It was built to protect against a strike with conventional, nuclear or chemical weapons, and could accommodate up to 200 civil servants, required to keep the city of Stockholm running in the event of a major catastrophe.

For many decades, Sweden was actively preparing for a total nuclear war. Every apartment building erected since 1945 had to be equipped with a bomb shelter. Civil defence was a priority: lessons learned from the WW2 indicated that the civilian population could become a major target in a next war. Time to shelter was of essence, and so the government started to build a large network of underground shelters, dispatch and coordination centers and military command posts. Many of them became obsolete by 1980:s, partly because the weapons delivery systems improved to a point where there simply wouldn’t be enough time to evacuate a large amount of people.


Part of the country’s secret nuclear weapons program was put on ice after signing the non-prolifiration treaty in 1968, however, Sweden kept a small amount of plutonium which could be used to build a nuclear bomb on a short notice. Controlled blasts were carried out as late as in 1972 to find out the exact impact of a nuclear bomb. The resulting data was used to build what probably became the world’s most modern system of nuclear bunkers.

The vast bunker cave in Sollentuna is hidden in a mountain behind a small industrial area 10 kilometers north of Stockholm. The high radio mast on top is the only thing that gives it away. Construction started back in 1972 and was finished in 1977. A nearly identical backup compound was built in Lissma south of Stockholm under the code name Vargen (“Wolf”).

IMG_2371Behind the anonymous entrance there is a 3300 square meter big granite cave system with simple jetcrete cladding and three separate houses built inside.

IMG_2562The main entrance is a long corridor designed to neutralize shockwaves from an outside explosion. It leads to three massive airlocks with decontamination rooms.

IMG_2403The A, B and C blocks are separate, two story high buildings inside the mountain. The A block is the main building with the kitchen and working areas. B block is the accomodation building with lounge and sleeping quarters. The C block hosts power supply systems.

IMG_2398The three airlock doors were never supposed to be open all at once. Entering the compound was a fairly complicated procedure, required to keep it air tight and electromagnetically isolated.


The buildings are protected against EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse typically triggered by a nuclear detonation) by a layer of steel and copper making every building its own Faraday cage. Each pipe and wire had to be separately isolated to protect electronical equipment on the inside, which is a very difficult and expensive job. For instance, the doors were opened pneumatically to limit the use of critical electrical components.

Elefanten had its own water well and air purification system. The air pressure on the inside was heightened to keep pollutants from entering the circulation.

IMG_2409Elefanten was designed to provide protection over a couple of days, with food and fuel supply limited to a couple of weeks. It was nevertheless technically capable of sustaining people over long periods of time.

The showers were supposed to protect against biological and chemical contaminants. Clothes from the outside were to be put in plastic bags and left in the first decontamination chamber. A new set of clean clothes would be provided after the second decontamination shower room.


The three buildings inside the “cave” are built out of concrete and completely covered by metal sheets, painted with black color. There are of course no windows. There’s very little room between the buildings, the cave walls and its vaulted ceiling – most available space is used by wiring and emergency pathways.

IMG_2520All buildings rest on dampers, which were supposed to absorb vibrations from a nuclear explosion.

IMG_2508There is no direct connection between the different buildings, getting from block A to B involves getting “outside” for a short walk.

IMG_2516One of two emergency exits leading to the surface.

IMG_2406Pneumatically driven warning siren.

IMG_2430Elefanten had one full time employee responsible for daily support and maintenance. His job included manning the small guard room at the A block entrance and getting photographed with foreign dignitaries whenever they got invited here.

IMG_2425Foreign visitors from friendly nations were taken on a small tour of the facilities and left a note in the guest book. Some of the friendly nations left small gifts.

The United States left a big plaque.

IMG_2496 The reception is equipped with a small candle, if all else fails.

IMG_2420Visitor’s room on the bottom floor of the A block. The hallway leads to storage areas, first aid bed, telecommunication room and an emergency exit. The orange color indicates it’s a transit area, the “horizon” is on 150 cm level indicating that people were mostly supposed to be standing there.

IMG_2487First aid room. Elefanten was designed to provide shelter and work environment for a couple of days, so there’s no proper hospital equipment here.

IMG_2491Communications room for the radio mast signals.

IMG_2445The small kitchen was mainly supposed to serve meals from a nearby school.

IMG_2437 In case of an actual catastrophic event, a backup supply of dry food could last for up to two weeks. The food would have to be heated using one of the three existing hotplates.

IMG_2435 All of the equipment is left virtually untouched.

IMG_2448Main dining area. The “horizon” is placed at 120 mm level, indicating that this is a place where people mostly sit down. The coloring scheme was designed to provide orientation, make the rooms feel bigger and to compensate for the lack of windows: the blue color is symbolizing the sky. The colors were generally chosen to help create a “nice and calm environment”. The lamps are designed by Per Sunstedt.

IMG_2456The whole second floor is occupied by command headquarters. They were having direct lines to other civil defence bunkers, such as Pionen, which was later rebuilt to a spectacular server hall hosting some of the Wikileaks servers. They also had connections to Swedish military command, primarily the air defence to relay attack warnings to the general population.

IMG_2478The headquarters were supposed to coordinate emergency municipal services in Stockholm and Sollentuna area

IMG_2449Victor (Sirius) personal computer, state of the art from 1981.

IMG_2466Ericsson SRA R70 radio communication equipment working on 68-80 MHz frequency band and used to communicate with mobile military and civil units. To the right: an early Aplicom Mobitex Aplicom Radio RB 580 with built-in voice encryption, used as a backup if normal phone connections would break down.

IMG_2459 Phone switch room with an Ericsson built LME m/53 switch.

IMG_2472The alarm centre was equipped with Ericsson 00-29582/02 phones, each supporting ten incoming calls.

IMG_2469Radio Sweden emergency radio broadcast room. The main broadcaster was supposed to be Arne Weise, one of the time’s most famous TV presenters.

IMG_2534The B block is primarily one large dormitory.

IMG_2533This is the seventies, so smoking is allowed. Everywhere.


Corridor in the accomodation building (B block). People here were supposed to work 12 hour shifts, so there are only 120 beds available.

IMG_2529 Since there were supposed to be more people than beds, there are no private or personal rooms here, nor are there any dedicated rooms for women. Each room has four beds.

At least there are some dedicated ladie’s rooms.

IMG_2545Humidity and temperature meter.

IMG_2549Lounge room, with a nice touch of the 70:s


A Swedish film crew desperately tried to find authentic 70:s environment finally found it here. The result can be seen in a 30 second long sequence of the Cornelis movie.

IMG_2555Another small kitchen, frozen in time. Each cup costs well over 20 Euro on today’s market.

IMG_2535Old televerket office space

IMG_2537Emergency exit hatch. Old paper bins on the right.

IMG_2527Air cleaning equipment

Today, Elefanten requires about 15000 Euro each year to cover the maintenance costs, mainly heating. The city of Stockholm is currently trying to get rid of it. Different proposals (hostel, spy museum, server hall) were suggested but none was accepted. If all else fails, the facility will be stripped of all equipment and sealed off within a couple of years from now.

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